Tag Archives: earworms

Needles and Plastic

For the last few weeks I’ve been suffering from a particularly persistent (and infectious) earworm. It’s Needles and Plastic by early ‘80s Flying Nun 3-piece DoubleHappys. It’s a song I’ve loved since the first time I heard it back in 1985 when I was a sneering (and insecure) 18 year-old bashing away in the Christchurch music scene.

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Instruments of joy and terror

The singer, Shayne Carter, was the king of sneer and, to be fair, there was plenty to sneer at in the world of 1985 which tends only to get appreciated in a jovially mocking manner, or as dewy-eyed nostalgia (big hair, lame rock, the ‘protection’ of the nuclear umbrella, Reagan selling drugs to fund terrorists while skipping merrily towards dementia, Thatcher tagging along in shoulder pads).

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High fashion c.1985 How high? Ask Ronnie Reagan

1985 was also a time when every mainstream radio programmer claimed all New Zealand music was ‘shit’, and much of the public agreed. But, like Reagan and his dodgy mates, they were wrong.

There was heaps of good music happening in NZ and the fact that those scraped-together recordings and ropey pressings continue to hold high value in the USA and Europe is testament to that (even 2nd hand copies of the insignificant FN E.P. I played on in ’87 have reached $400).

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Pure 1985

Why is it still valued? (beyond obvious nostalgia value). I believe it’s because it was fresh and real, with an energy akin to the first rock ‘n’roll that swept away the manufactured crooners in the ‘50s, or the British Invaders of the early ‘60s who made the processed US ‘rock’ acts irrelevant, or the US/UK punks of the early/mid ‘70s who popped the bloated balloon of Led Zep and pomp rock.

It spoke to me not just because of the subject matter but because the music sounded real. The drums, the guitars, the keyboards weren’t pumped full of processing in $200 an hour studios, they were noisy and nasty, grabbing your attention as if you were in the same room (or garage) as them.

And Shayne Carter wasn’t just a snotty young punk standing in the corner of the room; the lyrics also had a clever poetic quality. original_Double_Happys_Cut_It_Out_cover_image

It starts with a wonderfully blunt snark at a bogan:

Fat cunt in a studded belt, my god I think he thinks he’s something else
When he’s just another zombie probably made out of needles and plastic

And moves to a brilliantly economic couplet describing a pissed goth girl:

White, white girl in a black, black dress
She’s only pretty as in much of a mess
She’s just another zombie, probably made out of needles and plastic

Musically, it chugs along like you’re in the room watching it all

Everybody’s watching everybody else
But everybody’s watching out for themselves

It’s a shallow
Sickening sideshow
I don’t think I’m right, I don’t think I’m right, I
Know that I am!

It’s the nature of earworms (songs in your head you can’t get rid of) that they’re hard to escape. One method is to listen to the song repeatedly to kill it (I learned this from an article about earworms where, ironically, Shayne Carter said he had once been tortured for many weeks by Achey Breaky Heart). So, with this song continually on my mind I decided that I had to buy a copy from iTunes and thrash it to death. After all, even though I own Needles and Plastic on two original vinyl releases (the E.P. it first appeared on, Cut It Out, and the Flying Nun compilation, Tuatara) I haven’t owned a turntable in 15 years (I also have it on a mix-tape… but my last tape deck died 5 years ago and has not been replaced).

Never mind, I thought, I’m more than happy to pay $1.97 for a single (which, ironically, is the same price singles were when I started buying them in 1979).

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King of style, Steve Jobs 1985

The problem is Needles and Plastic is available on iTunes only in the form of two ‘album only’ album downloads. And I already own both of those pieces of plastic… I just don’t have the needle.

Which led to much frustration as the earworm continued to eat away at my brain.

But in the 21st century there is always more than one way skin a cat, so to speak (thank you interweb).

I ripped the song from YouTube and whacked it onto my iPhone and have been singing along again and again, chewing away at the tail of the earworm.

It’s every bit as good as I remember. So full of life and energy.

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Had this poster on my wall for years

It makes me wish I had seen the DoubleHappys live. I was still at school when the Looney Tour went through town in 1984, a 16 year-old in a time when you had to be 20 to enter a pub or risk the wrath of the police. Sure, I looked 20 but my school boy band All Fall Down had just started playing in pubs, and I knew that my gigging would be in jeopardy if I was nabbed.

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DoubleHappys hanging out in Dunedin: John, Shayne and Wayne

Aspiring to be on Flying Nun we recorded our best songs in a scraped-together studio for the always friendly and approachable Flying Nun supremo Roger Shepherd. We (unknowingly) took them to him the day after Carter’s DoubleHappy’s band mate (and childhood friend), Wayne Elsey, was killed after climbing on top of a train while on tour.

Back then, in 1985, 20 seemed so much more mature than me. Now it seems so young to die because of an ill-considered action born of youthful high spirits.

As L. P. Hartley wrote, the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

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Long-lamented (and banned) Double Happys

You couldn’t drink till you were 20 and they kicked you out of pubs at 10pm (or 11pm on Friday and Saturday). You had to get your money for the weekend from the bank by 4:30pm on a Friday. There was no internet or cellphones, bin Laden and Saddam were good mates of the CIA, and all NZ bands were shit. Double Happys and sky rockets were legal for Guy Fawkes, and they played music with needles and plastic.

A Curious Thing

Last night I dreamed of my father. We were sitting together on the couch, talking. He was sharp, warm, funny: it lasted for several minutes before a part of me observed how wonderful it was to hear his voice, and that awareness triggered the realisation that I was dreaming as Dad has been dead for over two years.

Maybe I’ve been listening to Kate Bush a bit too much lately. Wiley, windy moors and a dead loved one at the window. Loved you, hated you. Bad dreams in the night.

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It’s been two weeks, every day. The mind is a curious thing.

I so looked forward to today. So much to do, so much time to do it without the distraction of work (or my wonderful child) but I am distracted beyond any possible focus: anxious/unsettled, unable to complete the simplest of tasks.

I have just joined a gym and love the exercise which is aiding the recovery from my Achilles surgery. I have a challenging musical poem to write for the online course I am doing. Also a piece of original speculative fiction that has been percolating for an age until last week, while aqua-jogging in the pool, I found the change of voice and perspective that has sent it forward to where it needs to be, waiting with great promise. And, most pressingly of all, my computer continues to splutter and freeze, threatening to give up the ghost so I really need to go and replace it ASAP.

But I can’t get the words from my dream out of my head.

dreams2To top it off I am also being plagued by an earworm, waking the last two mornings to Joan Baez’s version of the Band’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. I heard it the other day on the awful radio station they constantly play at work, the music so tired it reminds me of being locked in a rest home waiting for the inevitable. It’s a format beloved by decaying Baby Boomers; ‘the Breeze’, songs you’ve heard at least a million times played in a never-changing purgatory of ‘60s/’70s smaltz. Yes, there’s good stuff and ‘classics’ amongst it but every Monday they play ‘Monday, Monday’…stopped into a church, alooong the wayyyyy…sigh. There’s always Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, Abba, Paul Simon etc et al. Resigned sigh. No escape from the tired familiarity.

Yes, all fine music but it’s the lack of surprise that saps my will.

That said, I’m obsessed with my earworm today as it’s the only way to escape the uneasiness of last night’s dream. I’ve never had any interest in the Baez version; too much syrup for a song which plays to racist sentiment (as I saw it). I have heard the Band do the original and it seemed to be more honest and nuanced/less of a celebration of a society founded on exploitation, oppression and hate.

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But like all great music, it has a surface reading and an unfathomable depth. The lines about choppin’ wood that finishes with “but they should never have taken the best” is what has won me over. I’m playing the song again and again just to revel in the poetry of the image.

About six weeks ago I met a man who could have been my father’s twin. Not as he was, confined with all the others to a secure facility waiting for the Alzheimer’s to end. Nor as he was in the ten or so years before that as he was consumed from inside, forced to avoid direct questions to conceal the growing confusion. But as he was twenty years ago when he was sharp and funny, engaged, playful. This doppelganger had my father’s eyes, face, hair, skin, manner of speaking…a distinctive mix echoed nowhere in the family or anyone I have met. We struck up a marvellous conversation as waves of (hidden) emotion surged through me. I hoped I wasn’t being creepy but grief is often an unexpected ride, and not having had a good chat with my Dad in many, many years I clung on for as long as I could.

I wouldn’t have thought too much of this encounter if not less than an hour later I had met someone whose address was on a street bearing my father’s name: Christian and surname, spelt just the same as Dad’s. At the time, it was hard not to laugh, to feel a little touched. I wished Dad had been alive to tell him there was street named after him.

Later, when work had finished, I googled the address just to make sure I wasn’t being totally wishful. Dad’s street was a cul-de-sac, around the corner from where I was working, attached to a street with, er… my name. Yip.

I was very amused: a playful joke worthy of my father.

Today we are experiencing mad, extreme winds. I can see the white horses galloping across the Bay from my salt-caked windows.

It is time to walk down to the water, listening to the ghost of Cathy and the death of Dixie, and make good my escape.

katebushasabat